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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Main Thing

(From: Through the Year with Jimmy Carter. "A Worthy Call" page 311).

       My favorite theologian is Reinhold Niebuhr. When I first became involved in politics, I read a book of his titled Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study of Ethics and Politics. It describes how to conduct one's self in public affairs. How do you apply Christian principles when engaging in a competitive campaign, when confronting political adversaries, or when working in some legislative body?
       The purpose of politics, Niebuhr says, is to establish justice in a sinful world. Justice means guaranteeing human rights and treating everyone fairly. According to Niebuhr, this is the highest possible goal for a political leader.
      Yet Niebuhr insists that this high goal is not nearly so exalted as the Christian’s central calling: to love one another, especially with agape love. This is self-sacrificial love for someone who may not deserve to be loved, who refuses to love you back, love that brings no recognition for your efforts. It is the kind of love that Christ personified.

Jimmy Carter references the view of Reinhold Niebuhr that the purpose of politics is to establish justice in a sinful world–“guaranteeing human rights and treating everyone fairly. According to Niebuhr, this is the highest possible goal for a political leader” (ibid, emphasis mine). First I point out that there is a contradiction here.  For guaranteeing human rights involves more than delimited justice, it inherently involves love and the Golden rule – I will treat you as I want to be treated.  When King Solomon sought to administer justice in the case of the disputed child, clearly it was more than justice served as he drew upon wisdom from a loving heart.  FDR’s Four Freedoms (freedom of speech; freedom of worship; freedom from want; freedom from fear) do not look myopically at justice, but seek to nurture mankind in a loving society that accommodates the human spirit. We must remember that the “rugged individual” is always really a child at heart.  In my view (one shared by many), our responsibility as citizens is to ensure that state justice is always inextricably enmeshed with love and mercy so as to help redeem the long human tapestry of fear and pain.  

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